11 January 2005 | noralee
Insights on War and Memory Amidst the Gauloise Smoke
"Notre Musique" could be either a late night college bull session or one of those Monty Python skits where historical warmongers sit around rationally comparing their various atrocities with a coolly objective BBC moderator.
Maybe it's a French intellectual's reality show pitch: we'll set up a dialog between a Jew and a Palestinian at a literary meeting in bombed-out Sarajevo as observed by living ghost Native Americans after bombarding them with images of war and genocide through 19th and 20th century history.
Amidst this trumped-up pretentiousness, Godard the filmmaker does make some good points about war and memory. While the historical images, both from fiction and journalism, are colorized to contemporize them, one easily concedes, yeah, war is hell and hey didn't "Saving Private Ryan" prove that to us, when Godard cannily trumps that thought by discussing how war in fiction - from legend and poetry to movies -- touches people more than the reality.
Then just as you're about to protest, hey, you're showing all these war images without their raison d'etre, Godard springs into a profound verbal and visual illustration of the importance of context, leading to an appreciation of how history is written by the victors. The points about the impact on Western psyche of the Trojans from Homer's perspective were more insightful than all of the "Troy" movie.
However, those debaters that are translated in the subtitles talk in didactic epigrams that will make more sense when one can rewind the DVD for reflection (including the explanation of the title). The French intellectual smug superiority gets annoying -- we don't see any images of WW II collaborators vs. Resistance fighters, let alone colonial legacy issues in Algeria or Muslims in France today.
While I'm not sure if the images of discarded books amidst the ruins of war were about the hopelessness of literature and the arts or its unquenchable survival as some are salvaged, Godard has an intellectual's faith in the power of dialog (and cigarette smoking), though pessimistic about the ability of the media to communicate it effectively, as he sets up an overly freighted discussion between an idealistic and ambitious young Israeli woman of Russian descent, whose grandparents were saved from the Holocaust by a Righteous Gentile, and an articulate Palestinian writer, as translated by another Wandering French/Israeli Jew.
I think he was also trying to incorporate suicide bombers into the trajectory of French intellectual thought from Durkheim to Camus that sees it as an existential act of protest against anomie, but well, Jean Luc, we can't all be French.
Typical for a Godard film, the woman to my right gushed that it was her second screening and it was her favorite of his films, and the woman on my left said she couldn't figure out what it was about.